SE: Confidence Leads Women’s Basketball to NCAA Tournament
The locker room was silent after the Wildcat women’s basketball team suffered a 20-point loss at West Virginia on Feb. 6. The loss stung. It was a loss that marked the third of a three-game skid for the Wildcats, and the the team’s confidence was dwindling.
The game took place just past the halfway mark of Big 12 play, and, with a lot of basketball left in the season, K-State head coach Jeff Mittie knew he needed to say something.
“We did some good things today,” Mittie said to the solemn group after the loss. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know a good basketball team from a bad basketball team, and we’re a good basketball team. You need to know that.”
His words were reassuring. The Wildcats were a better team than what the final scoreboard read, and they needed to understand that truth. Mittie was confident that if the group made a few adjustments and held their heads high, they could really be something special.
Because they are a good basketball team.
“I thought we were still a good basketball team at that point – I wasn’t questioning that – I was questioning their confidence level,” Mittie said to reporters yesterday afternoon in a press conference leading up to K-State’s first NCAA Tournament matchup against George Washington today at 4 p.m. “The Big 12 is such a grind, so I felt like it was my job to make sure they knew they were a good basketball team. Then we came home on short rest and beat Oklahoma the Tuesday following that game, and from there, you could see our confidence grow.”
That bitter loss at West Virginia was the turning point of K-State’s season. Following that game, K-State went on to not only upset No. 21 Oklahoma, but win four of its next five games.
The Wildcats were able to turn things around so much so that, fast forward to today, and the team is set to compete in the program’s first NCAA Tournament since the 2011-12 season.
“We didn’t make it at all my freshman or sophomore year, and last year was a close call, but now, capping off my senior year with the NCAA Tournament, it’s everything I could have dreamed of,” said senior guard Bri Craig. “I’m excited to play.”
The Wildcats, the No. 9 seed, will take on the eighth-seeded Colonials at Colonial Life Arena in Columbia, South Carolina. The winner will face the winner of the matchup between No. 1 seed South Carolina and No. 16 seed Jacksonville.
It’s an exciting time for the team, and their confidence is evident entering today’s matchup.
The team’s confidence shines through players, like All-Big 12 First Team recipient Breanna Lewis, who leads the team in scoring (16.7 ppg), rebounding (7.5 rpg), double-doubles (7) and blocks (74). The junior from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is among the nation’s top centers as she is one of just two players in NCAA Division I (Breanna Stewart, Connecticut) to record the combination of 500 or more points, 200 or more rebounds, 70 or more blocks and 45 or more steals this season, and she is the first ever Wildcat to do so.
“Practice has been great, workouts have been great, we’re still on track, still focused,” said Lewis. “We knew our basketball season wasn’t over, so from when the Big 12 tournament ended, (the mindset) was, ‘When’s the next game?’ We’re mentally prepared and physically, we’re at a good place. We’re more than ready.”
That same confidence shines through junior guard Kindred Wesemann, who earned All-Big 12 Second Team recognition for connecting on a Big 12-leading 82 three-pointers in the regular season, and through the tough, gritty play of sophomore forward Shaelyn Martin of Salina, Kansas, who leads the team with 104 assists. It shines through senior guard Megan Deines, who, as a transfer from Louisville, is the only player on the Wildcat roster with experience at the NCAA Tournament and can’t wait to share this year’s experience with her new teammates.
“They stuck through it, they love K-State and they put in a ton of work,” said Mittie. “We have a lot of kids from this area, so they know how much (the NCAA Tournament) means. I challenged them two years ago to set this program back on a path of NCAA Tournaments where every year we were having these conversations, and I think they take tremendous pride that they’ve done a lot of good things.”
Together, this year’s Wildcat women’s basketball team has overcome adversity, adapted and adjusted and worked its way to today’s NCAA Tournament appearance.
“A lot of teams couldn’t handle a lot of the adjustments we made (throughout the year), and it could have taken this team, but this is a team that trusts,” continued Mittie. “They’ve been a good group that way. They’ve trusted us to come in with a game plan every game, and they’ve performed to the best of their abilities. I’m very fortunate.”
Today’s game against George Washington will be show on ESPN2, with the local Manhattan/Topeka market able to watch the game in its entirety, while the national audience will view “whiparound” coverage. The game will also air in its entirety on the WatchESPN app and ESPN3. Fans can also listen to the action on the K-State Sports Network and for free at kstatesports.com.
For game notes and more information on today’s women’s basketball matchup, please click here.